Melanoma is a condition that is often associated with cancer of the skin. However, it need not always be the case. This condition usually starts with melanocytes, the cells responsible for the production of the melanin pigment in the body which adds color to the skin, hair and eyes. The melanocytes go on to form moles that cause the development of melanoma. Although moles are known to be an associated risk factor for melanoma, not all moles turn into melanoma.
What are the categories of melanoma?
In general, melanoma can be divided into three main categories which are:
- Cutaneous melanoma: This melanoma is a condition associated with the skin. Since the pigment cells are primarily located in the skin, the cutaneous melanoma is a condition that is most commonly found the form of melanoma. Cutaneous melanoma can be further categorized into four main parts:
- Mucosal melanoma: Mucosal melanoma normally impacts the mucous membranes of the body, which also include the nasal passages, throat, vagina, anal passage or the mouth.
- Ocular melanoma: Ocular melanoma is also known as uveal melanoma or choroidal melanoma. This is a rather rarely found form of melanoma which impacts the eyes.
Other types of cancer are known to develop inside the body, in various organs which can make it hard to diagnose them. Melanoma, on the other hand, is found on the surface of the skin which makes it easy to detect the condition in the early stages of development. When left untreated, melanoma can spread rather fast to various organs of the body. Once the melanoma begins to spread to the other parts of the body, it is known as the fourth stage of the disease and is known as metastatic melanoma which can be very hard to treat. In this stage, melanoma spreads to various organs like the lungs, liver, bones and the brain, wherein the prognosis can become very difficult.
What leads to melanoma?
Melanoma is considered a very dangerous form of skin cancer in which the development of cancerous skin cells could be due to multiple causes like exposure to UV rays or overexposure to sun rays. This exposure eventually triggers faulty cells to develop genetic defects in a person. These genetic defects cause the skin cells to quickly multiply and form malignant tumors that could spread across the body in no time. These tumors mainly develop in the melanocytes that are responsible for the production of pigments in the base layer of the epidermis.
Melanomas often look like moles and some of these develop from moles. Most melanomas are black or brown in color, however, some of them could also be the color of the skin. Melanoma is primarily known to occur due to an intense exposure to UV rays of the sun. Such exposure may cause sunburn, particularly in those who have fair skin. Approximately 10 thousand people in the United States alone are known to die from melanoma each year.
If melanoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, the chances of it getting cured are high. However, undetected and untreated melanoma advances into cancer rapidly and begins to affect other parts of the body as well, which makes it difficult to treat this condition and in turn also can make it fatal.
While melanoma is not a frequently found form of skin cancer, there are a number of deaths resulting from this condition progressing into cancer.
What are the symptoms of melanoma?
Since melanoma affects the surface of the skin, it is often visible and hence immediately catches one’s attention. Suddenly appearing moles, sores, lumps or blemishes could change the appearance of the skin which could be nothing but a sign of melanoma or any other form of skin cancer or just a warning sign that it could be in progress.
A normal mole is evenly brown, tan or black in color and appears as a spot on the skin. It could be either raised or flat, equally proportional to the surface of the skin. It could be either oval or round in shape. Moles normally measure about six millimeters or 1/4 of an inch in width. Some moles are present in an individual from birth, however most of them appear in early childhood or young adulthood. Moles that appear much later in life should not be taken lightly and should be shown to a doctor.
Once a mole develops, it normally stays the same way in terms of the size, shape, and color for many years. Some moles are a temporary occurrence and could fade away with time.
Moles are very common among people and most of them are quite harmless. However, it is crucial to understand the changes that occur in the mole in terms of its size, shape and color since any of these changes could be a sign of a developing melanoma.
The most crucial sign of melanoma is the occurrence of new spots that appear on the skin surface and which keep changing in their size, shape and color. Another sign to recognize a melanoma is that this spot would appear to be different from various other signs that would be present in your body. In case you see such a warning sign on your body, have it checked by your doctor immediately.
Signs of abnormal moles
There is a popular theory of melanoma, known as the ABCDE theory, and it stands for the signs of melanoma. Always be watchful for any one or more of these signs, and inform your doctor in case you have any of the following symptoms affecting you:
A: Asymmetry signs: This refers to a mole that is not proportionate, in the sense that half of this mole may be differently shaped or colored compared to the other half.
B: Border signs: This feature is unique to a mole occurring due to melanoma that refers to the border or the edges of the mole being irregular or blurred in appearance.
C: Color signs: The color of the mole may be disproportionate all over and may have some shades of brown or black, and in some cases could even come with patches of pink, red, white or blue.
D: Diameter signs: This is a sign that the mole is bigger than six millimeters across. (In some cases the mole could be smaller than this.)
E: Evolving signs: The mole changes in size, shape or color compared to when it started.
Certain melanomas, however, do not fit these set of rules. Hence, it is important to be vigilant and inform your doctor if you are noticing any changes or formation of new spots on your skin including new growths that appear different from other moles.
Some of the other symptoms of melanoma may include:
- Sores that could be painless but just don't heal
- Pigment from the border of the spot and around the surrounding skin that begins to spread over
- An inflammation around the borders of the mole that develops suddenly or redness around the mole area
- Changes in certain sensations around the mole that include itching, pain or tenderness
- Changes in the appearance of the mole that may include, scaling, oozing of pus, a bump or lump in the mole.
Ensure you make it a point to discuss any of these conditions with your doctor and ask your doctor to even check for areas that you are unable to see. There is a very thin line of difference between a melanoma and a normal mole even for doctors to see, so it is very important to show your doctor any mole that you may be unsure of.
- Not all moles are a sign of skin cancer, but it is important to show the moles to the doctor to know what could be potentially cancerous.
- The most crucial sign of melanoma is the occurrence of new spots that appear on the skin surface and which keep changing in their size, shape and color.
- Undetected and untreated melanoma advances into cancer that begins to affect other parts of the body as well as the skin.